Fortnum & Mason Profits from Innovation

Fortnum & Mason storefront in old town London. (Photo by Elisa Rolle)

VenerableFortnum& Mason, one of the world's oldest tea brands,retains its retail vibrancy. Sales of the UK-brand are up 12% to £138million ($178 million), and profits rose 26% to £12.1million ($15.9 million) for 12 months ending in mid-July.

Comingin the wake of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and slowing sales in HongKong—the location of Fortnum's only store outside the UK—this news is bothencouraging and offers useful insight.

Fortnum's Sparkling Tea, 0% ABV £16.95 ($22.35) (Photo credit:

Thebrand credits innovation as a significant reason for the boost in sales. Lastyear the company introduced a £16.95 ($22.35) Sparkling Tea for a world thatappreciates elegance in food and drink. The companyannounced at launchthat its "sparkling tea, a celebration-ready, organic blend of eightfamous and rare brews, builds on Fortnum's expertise in tea and responds togrowing consumer appetites for sophisticated, non-alcoholic beverages.”

Thebrewed teas are blended with grape juice and lemon juice tomake a refreshingly unique, non-alcoholic alternative that is only comparableto Champagne or sparkling wine. 

Tea andalcohol have made the rounds – Fortnum& Mason themselves have a range that includes the Bloody Mary Tea and Ginand Tonic Tea – but thisinnovation is more exciting. The tea demanded the expertise of both wine andtea experts of the company. It is conceptualized by the award-winning Danishsommelier Jacob Kocemba who combined Chinese green, gunpowder green, jasmine green,Darjeeling, Japanese matcha, Nepalese jun chiya, Ceylon greenfield and Chinese silverneedles, for a first.

The tea is described as "off-dry and medium-bodiedfeaturing primary notes of tropical fruits, while the lemongrass and Darjeelingpalate finishes with waves of tea and water mint." Designed to pair withfood, it works through a range from fresh seafood to sweet after-dinner treats,according to the company.

Thehigh street retail brand was founded in 1707 by builder William Fortnum, whotook a post as a royal footman in Queen Anne’s household (where he waspermitted to sell the royal’s half-used candlewax at a profit). He found abusiness partner in landlord Hugh Mason, a shopkeeper turned grocer in a storyworthy of an old classic. In the Victorian era, Fortnum & Mason were theroyal caterers for special occasions at the Court. It is reported that QueenVictoria sent the brand's beef tea to Florence Nightingale's hospitals duringthe Crimean war. There are many firsts to its credit. It is the birthplace ofthe Scotch egg (1738); the first to stock tinned baked beans made by HJ Heinz(1886) and creators of the Royal Blend of tea made from Assam and Sri Lankanblack teas (1902). The company was bought over by the Weston group in 1951 andnow has four stores in the UK and one in Hong Kong.

Inrecent years, the retailer reported climbing tea sales, with a rise in upmarkettea-drinking; what has undoubtedly helped it grow is its emphasis andcommitment to innovation, with food and now with tea. Fortnum & Mason'sSparkling Tea is also an indicator of the trends in how tastes are changingamong customers by clearly acknowledging the market for holiday shoppers whoare seeking non-alcoholic gifts and beverages.

Sources: The Guardian, Telegraph, Market Watch